Clerk Spotlight: Milwaukee, WI
Behind every successful government is a clerk keeping it all together through technology and cross-department collaboration.
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is known for its breweries, its position on Lake Michigan’s western shore, and the Bucks — Milwaukee’s reigning NBA championship winning team. In fact, the first obligatory words our featured clerk uttered at the start this month’s spotlight were Bucks in six, a legendary rallying cry with a genesis that dates back eight years. The infamous motto (finally) became a reality this year when the Bucks defeated the Phoenix Suns in six games.
Jim Owczarski, our featured clerk, has been Milwaukee’s city clerk since April 2012. Most recently re-appointed in April 2020, he began working for the city in 1999. Before that, he was a journalist, stage performer, and historian of the Early Modern period; sometimes all at the same time, but not necessarily in that order.
Jim discussed how meetings shifted for the city of Milwaukee since the start of the pandemic. His office is responsible for the issuance of many thousands of licenses to bars, restaurants, gas stations, and food retailers, among others. “In one weekend, we had to go from fully in-person meetings in well-appointed, well-wired conference rooms to fully remote. We had three days,” Owczarski recalled. “Our amazing cable crew, GoToMeeting, and the Granicus video integration were absolutely essential. I know this is a sponsored event, but I’m just telling the truth: That Granicus application… that’s what got us there.” As a big believer in in-person meetings, Owczarski was surprised by how popular remote meetings have become. They experienced unprecedented participation at the city’s joint public budget hearing using a remote format; well into the hundreds of people. Because of its overwhelming success, remote meetings will likely remain a standard practice for Milwaukee, even as the city transitions into more of a hybrid model.
Milwaukee also utilizes Granicus’ eComment feature to digitally gather public opinion on topics the city predicts will be controversial. The option to make a comment is attached to the file of an agenda item. It has become a community hub that both residents and city officials alike appreciate because of its ease of use. “Before we had eComment, one of the biggest pains was what our staff assistants had to go through to sort, scan, and package thousands of willy-nilly comments on various matters,” Owczarski said. “eComment is awesome!”
“We use iLegislate. I would not govern without it. I mean that.”
— Jim Owczarski, City Clerk, City of Milwaukee, WI